An American judge sets a legal precedent by ordering Microsoft to surrender emails stored in an Irish data centre
A US judge has ruled that Microsoft must hand over a user’s email account to American legal authorities, despite the fact that the data is being held in a data centre in Dublin, Ireland.
The case is understood to be the first in which a company has challenged a US search warrant, seeking cloud data held abroad, and establishes a precedent.
It was back in April when a US judge made the order for a search warrant, saying that US companies providing Internet services could not refuse valid search warrants for data held overseas.
Microsoft, along with a number of other tech companies including Apple, Cisco and Verizon, challenged the search warrant, saying it improperly allowed US federal authority to seize customer information held in foreign countries.
But after a two-hour court hearing in New York, US District Judge Loretta Preska denied Microsoft’s defence, ruling that the search warrant required it to hand over any data it controlled, regardless of where it was stored.
“It is a question of control, not a question of the location of that information,” Preska reportedly said.
Microsoft Executive VP and General Counsel Brad Smith pledged to continue resisting the warrant.
“In December the government sent Microsoft a search warrant seeking a consumer’s emails as part of a narcotics investigation,” Smith wrote in the Wall Street Journal. “While the company appreciates the vital importance of public safety, it seeks to ensure that governments access customers’ communications only through a valid legal process. In this case, the emails are stored in Dublin, Ireland, where Microsoft maintains a data center to service some of its customers outside the US.”
“Microsoft believes you own emails stored in the cloud, and that they have the same privacy protection as paper letters sent by mail,” said the Microsoft man. “This means, in our view, that the US government can obtain emails only subject to the full legal protections of the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment. It means, in this case, that the US government must have a warrant. But under well-established case law, a search warrant cannot reach beyond US shores.”
“The government seeks to sidestep these rules, asserting that emails you store in the cloud cease to belong exclusively to you,” he wrote. “It’s hard to believe that the American people will blithely accept that foreign governments can obtain their emails stored in US data centers without letting them know or notifying the US government. Yet the US government is taking precisely this position toward emails stored in Microsoft’s data center in Ireland.”
Microsoft is not alone in facing these types of government requests.
Last month a federal judge in New York issued a warrant against the search-engine giant Google, giving US prosecutors access to the Gmail emails of an unnamed user, who is part of a criminal investigation into money laundering.
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